Budget Deficit Outlined
The second item on the agenda of the Costa Mesa City Council Special Study Session Thursday, May 17th, was a discussion of the Capital Improvement section of the new, revised 2012/2013 Preliminary Budget. The discussion of this item didn't commence until 5:55 because the first item, the Fire Department Reorganization Proposal, took 80 minutes.
CEO Tom Hatch led off this discussion by, once again, telling the four members of the City Council present - Eric Bever was a no-show - that, while the CIP budget as proposed represented 4% of the budget, it did not fully meet the council's expectations. He told the council that it was the staff's goal to have the CIP represent between 10-15% of the total budget each year.
YOUNG DETAILS THE DEFICIT
Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young then took over. He told the council that the new budget, available for viewing on the city web site HERE, now has a $13.1 million deficit, due to the adding into the budget the 22 items from the 5-Year Forecast Priorities - the Wish List.
The addition of those items produced a Preliminary Capital Improvement budget of $33.1 million, an increase of 216% over the final adopted 2011/2012 budget. Although the goal was to begin the "whittling" process, to try to achieve a balanced budget, not much of that happened. Instead, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer - the driving force behind the Wish List - attempted, once again, to justify the items on it by going over every one of the 22 items one at a time. A few of those of us observing had a feeling of deja vu. This is just how he created the thing in the first place, despite his protestations that he didn't pull numbers out of the air. There was still VERY LITTLE justification for many of the items provided - he just confirmed his choice of numbers, not that they were essential.
There is NO question that some of those 22 items should probably be included in this year's budget. However, some certainly do not seem to rise to the level of need that they should be included if they mean deterioration in service levels elsewhere - that's budget speak for staff cuts, since that's the only place there's any money to pay for most of it.
The most glaring example of this is the last item on the list - Budget Contingency. That's the $1 million slush fund they created for Hatch - just like last year. It was used as "piggy bank" to fund spontaneous costs that really should have been more accurately accounted for with budget adjustments. It's like a kid having a dime in his pocket for a candy bar, except this is a million dollars-worth of candy bars. No justification was given for this amount except "that's what we did last year".
90 MINUTES AND NOT MUCH PROGRESS
The council finally adjourned at 7:30, having not made much progress on this issue. The discussion was extended to the next meeting, Thursday, May 24th at 4:30, where the CIP and many other issues in the budget will be addressed. Quite honestly, I didn't see much progress toward producing a balanced budget at this one and the clock is ticking.
PAINFUL TO WATCH
They never did get around to the discussion of the Drainage Plan, which was also shoved off to the next meeting. So far, this is the most painful budget process I've seen in a dozen years of watching them closely and it is far, far from over. The specific feed for this meeting is not yet up on the city site but you can go HERE and look for it later. You can also watch the meeting on taped replay on CMTV, Channel 24 (Time Warner Cable) and Channel 99 (ATT U-Verse) on this schedule.
MORE "CHARTER" FUN
Now I'm off to watch Righeimer and former Mayor Sandra Genis debate the pros and cons of becoming a Charter City. The good folks at the League of Women Voters are hosting this lunch-time event at the soon-to-be-defunct Coco's restaurant at Fashion Island. I'll report back later.